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Drought signals inferred from ring-width and stable carbon isotope chronologies from Thuja occidentalis trees growing at their northwestern distribution limit, central Canada

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Stable carbon isotopes (δ13C) fixed in tree rings are dependent upon environmental conditions. Old northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.) trees were sampled at their northwestern limit of distribution in central Canada. The objectives of the study were (i) to investigate the association between tree-ring δ13C values and radial growth in addition to the response of these variables to climate, (ii) to assess site differences between two sites varying in moisture regime, and (iii) to compare tree-ring δ13C of T. occidentalis with that of other boreal tree species growing at the northern limit of their distribution in central Canada. Over 2500 tree rings comprised of 15 T. occidentalis trees were analyzed for δ13C. Annually resolved δ13C (1650–2006) and ring-width (1542–2006) chronologies were developed. During the year of ring formation, ring width was associated with spring and early-summer conditions, whereas δ13C was more indicative of overall summer conditions. However, compared with δ13C values, ring width was more often associated with climate conditions in the year prior to ring formation. Conditions conducive to moisture stress were important for both parameters. Although ring width and δ13C corresponded to the drought intervals of the 1790s, 1840s, 1890s, 1930s, and 1960–1970, ring width may be more responsive to prolonged drought than δ13C. Tree-ring δ13C could, however, provide important information regarding physiological adaptations to drought.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Forest Interdisciplinary Research (C-FIR), The University of Winnipeg, 515 Avenue Portage, Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9, Canada.

Publication date: March 15, 2012

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